BY MADRIPOOR ROSE
DISCLAIMER: X MEN ARE THE PROPERTY OF MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT, NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: X MEN III: THE LAST STAND CROSSED OVER WITH A SCENE FROM THE COMIC X MEN 100. THANKS TO AMOKITTY AND THE KIOTR GALLERY FOR INSPIRATION. Warren Worthington's speech taken directly from the X Men III novelization.
The Danger Room was living up to it's name that day.
Rogue flinched as another barrage of laser fire lit up the simulated night sky with a deafening sizzle, and she concentrated on following Colossus through the rubble-strewn obstacle course of a battlefield.
Giant killer robots? Whoever programmed this training session had definitely been watching too much anime.
She found the crater of a previous explosion, adequate cover to hunker down for a moment and try to get their bearings. She motioned for Piotr to follow, and stepped down into the hole, skidding and picking her way down.
Piotr jumped down beside her, and Rogue could feel the ground quake slightly as his feet hit. She grinned at the mirror-bright silver surface of his face, and thought about Road Runner cartoons and square weights marked 500 pounds flattening Wile E. Coyote.
"We're supposed to find the others," she shouted over the din. "Did you see anyone?"
Piotr shook his head. "I saw only Logan. He is to our right and we would have to cross open ground."
"We can make a run for it," she argued. Rogue started to climb out of the sort-of foxhole, and a grenade dropped from the sky, hitting the ground in front of her, and rolling away.
Away, but not far enough away.
Before Rogue could react, she was caught up in strong arms and pulled backward, and down, tucked against a broad chest. She took a breath to warn him, and inhaled new leather, the sandalwood cologne Piotr got from Caswell Massey, smoke, and the burnt tinfoil aftertaste of the laser fire cooking the air, sharper than a lightning strike.
Piotr's bare steel hand passed cool across her forehead as he curled around her, and the world rearranged itself.
She could feel herself grow heavier, solid, her skin prickling as she petrified...metallified?...into organic steel as she watched Piotr's face darken, almost tarnished, before it faded to flesh. She shouted, "Colossus, are you nuts? You touched me with your bare hand!"
He stared back at her, human, but hale and healthy, and the drumbeat of a fresh explosion above stole his reply and;
s/he was five and sitting on Papa's shoulders, almost more enthralled by the towering buildings and so many people crowded around them than the parade until Mikhail, proud in his academy cadet uniform, pointed at the planes flying overhead.
s/he was nine and sitting on the stairs listening to Mama sing the new baby to sleep, s/he was too old for lullabies, but it was nice to hear Mama sing.
s/he was thirteen and two strange men in suits came to tell them Mikhail was dead.
s/he was fourteen and on a school trip to the Hermitage and moving through the galleries, felt something open up inside, recognizing in the canvases what the clumsy pencil sketches were reaching for.
s/he was fifteen and standing before the wreckage, clutching Illyana...listening quietly as the man from the American mutant school spoke to Mama and Papa...getting on the plane alone.
s/he was sixteen and appreciatively watching a slender brunette in a pink bikini climbing out of the pool, all long legs and breasts that would be a sweet mouthful--bozhe moi, Katya? That cannot be little Katya!
s/he was seventeen and leading a group of students down an escape tunnel, running for their lives from the armed men in the mansion.
s/he was eighteen and putting on an official X Men uniform, stiff new leather that fit like a glove, for this morning's Danger Room session.
Rogue lived Piotr Rasputin's life in the seconds it took for him to transfer his power to her. By now accustomed to it, Rogue made a box in her mind and stuffed the memory echo into it.
It was quiet again, here, but noise in the distance indicated that the Sentinel had found the other team, Miss Munroe, and Bobby and Kitty. Storm, Iceman, and Shadowcat, as they were supposed to say in the field.
They joined Logan, and then found the other team and completed the mission objective. Rogue didn't think they were gonna get an A on this one.
They changed back into street clothes in the locker room before they went back upstairs. Well, the kids did. Miss Munroe asked Logan to stay behind so she could talk to him alone.
Bobby and Kitty were teasing Piotr about the insane move where he picked Logan up and threw him at the giant robot. Rogue caught herself watching Piotr watch Kitty. He was joking back, but not flirting, and Rogue silently wished he'd realize that the best time to make a move on the girl was right after she'd seen him in skintight black leather because oh sweet lord, hello, he had a mirror, didn't he?
But only someone who'd been inside his head would have guessed that the Siberian Studmuffin was shy.
She tugged at the cuffs of her gloves, and then the cuffs of her sleeves, a nervous habit that she was getting a little OCD about, and shoved the awkwardness of her new awareness out of her mind.
She didn't like having the intimate secrets of her friends.
Borrowing Piotr's power had been different, though. Everyone she touched went pale. Blue-pale. Their skin dried out as if they were being mummified alive and they made this horrible gasping sound.
Everyone she touched did that, even Logan. He just recovered faster.
Even during the slightest touch, like kissing Bobby, or John, when she'd stopped him from attacking the cops.
Piotr hadn't. His steel-skin had darkened, but he went human and he was fine. Not shaking with pain that was too bad to scream.
She'd have to tell the Professor. Maybe it meant something, maybe because Piotr was organic steel it did something, slowed down her power the way ruby quartz diluted Mister Summers' optic blasts.
"Wow, that's really pretty." Bobby's comment startled her, and she looked up at him. They were sitting at the table in the Common Room, doing homework.
Without realizing it, Rogue had doodled a string of running horses all along the top margin of her English paper rough draft.
"I didn't know you could draw like that," Bobby continued. "That's really good."
She couldn't draw like that. Piotr's talent, borrowed along with his mutant ability. She stared at the fluid line drawing, knowing how she'd done it, how to capture the musculature and suggest movement with a quick stroking line shaped just so.
Knowing that she'd lose it in a couple of days.
"Hey, put that back," Sam Guthrie suddenly demanded from the couch in front of the television. Jubilee, in possession of the remote, obliged.
"They've been called saints and sinners," a dignified older man in a business suit was saying. The crawl along the bottom of the screen identified him as Warren Worthington Jr. of Worthington Pharmaceuticals. "They've committed atrocities and been the victims of atrocities themselves."
"What, is he running for office?" Bobby asked curiously.
"They've been labeled monsters, and not without reason. But these so-called monsters are people just like us. They are our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, they are our children. Their affliction is nothing more than a disease. A corruption of healthy cellular activity. Finally, there is hope. A way to eradicate their suffering and the suffering of those who love them."
A DNA helix graphic replaced him on the screen, while the voiceover continued.
"A few years ago, we found a mutant with the most extraordinary ability---to repress, and even reverse---the powers of other mutants who came close to him. Now, after much research and experimentation, we've found the means for all mutants to benefit from this. Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present the answer to mutation. Finally. Finally, we have a cure!"
Rogue let out a breath she hadn't even known that she was holding, and turned to Bobby with wonder in her eyes. "You know what this means?"
"Yeah. They finally found a politically correct way to get rid of us."
She couldn't have been more shocked if he'd slapped her.
"I'm gonna go find out if the teachers know about this," she said, a little stiffly, and got to her feet.
Bobby followed her out into the hall. "Rogue, I didn't... I know what a cure means to you."
"I wouldn't have to be so careful about covering up my skin. I wouldn't have to carry other people's secrets in my head. We could...we could be together..."
Bobby's eyes narrowed. "I haven't been pressuring you."
"I know. You've been great. But maybe I wouldn't be so patient if I didn't have to be. Bobby, I love you. I want to kiss you, touch you, and, and maybe now we can. Do all those things."
"I want that too, but, God, Rogue. Think about it! Remember my mother, asking if I ever tried not being a mutant? Some of us...there are some mutants that like their powers, and what's to stop the next Stryker, or the next President, from rounding us all up and forcing us to take the cure?"
Rogue's chin came up. "The X Men."
She turned and marched determinedly down the hall to the Professor's office. Bobby didn't come after her.
And all she got was more of the same. Professor Xavier didn't want her to get her hopes up. Mutant medicine had redefined the term 'idiosyncratic drug reaction' and despite the testing, the so-called cure might not work for every mutant.
Miss Munroe, like Bobby, was offended by the thought that mutation was a disease.
Easy for them to say. Their powers weren't a curse.
She thought about Piotr, and her memory of all those people staring at him in terrified horror that day he'd gone up against a runaway tractor and won.
She went to look for him, and found him in the gazebo by the koi pond with his sketchpad. He looked up from his work and smiled as she came in and sat down on the other bench.
He didn't say anything, so she did.
"Peter, there was something on the news, some doctor found a cure for mutation. There's gonna be an assembly about it tonight."
He did look up at that, sharply, and set his charcoal pencil down. "That is good news, for those who find their mutation adds difficulties to their lives."
"Like me," Rogue said softly. "Bobby doesn't like the idea of a cure," she looked down at her hands, at the seam along the fingers of her gloves. The thread wasn't quite the same color as the cloth. "because it might be used as a weapon against mutants who don't want to change."
"It is politically complicated. But what is the saying? You should not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes? If you choose to take the cure, or don't, there will be people who will want to make you a symbol. Don't forget that you are a girl, living your life."
Rogue took a breath and moved to sit beside him. "When you loaned me your armor in the Danger Room, it felt different. What did you feel?"
He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "A little light-headed."
"And your face got...less shiny. Peter...when I touch people, it hurts them. Muscles go rigid, veins stand out. Skin withers. They gasp for breath. You didn't do any of that."
He caught on. "Because I was armored. You touched my skin, but it was not flesh, and I was protected." A look of intent curiosity settled over his face. "Perhaps we should touch again, to make certain there is no mistake?"
He shifted a little, the wooden bench under them creaking softly under the added weight as he changed.
Rogue took a breath as he reached up and cupped her cheek with his metal hand.
Whoa. Maybe it was being touched. Gently. Deliberately. Maybe it was because Piotr was damn hot if not exactly her type.
"Just as I did in the Danger Room, I feel a bit..." Piotr trailed off, and leaned closer.
She realized he was going to kiss her cheek, and turned her head just that tiny bit to ensure his cool lips met hers instead.
She wasn't sure why.
This flare of guilty excitement inside her twisted around, filling her stomach with butterflies.
Piotr was a gentleman. He hesitated, and then continued to kiss her. Rogue ignored the vague memory drifting through, other than to thank those girls who'd taught him how to kiss.
Ignored that hot angry little wail that this was what Cody was supposed to be like, that day in her bedroom when she showed him the Great Graduation Road Trip Map.
Wished for a minute that Bobby would come looking for her and see Piotr kissing her, and get jealous.
And that there was something to the kiss other than attractive boy with good technique. Because there was the cure now, and this thing with Bobby that she didn't even think was a fight yet, but wouldn't it be easier if she could fall in love with a boy she could actually touch?
Piotr pulled away from the kiss, and he looked a little shocked. The darkened patina effect on his armor remained. And looked really weird. He changed back to human again. "Rogue!" he said sternly, sitting back a little. "We should not have done that."
"You certainly didn't need to practice," she sighed, making him blush a little. "Sorry. It was a nice kiss, though. I...I think I forgot what it was like, to just be able to kiss a guy if I want."
"Do you think you will take the cure?"
"I don't know. I gotta find out more about it, first. And I hafta get used to the idea that I HAVE a choice, before I choose. Y'know?" She shrugged, then eyed the big Russian boy with uncomfortable empathy. "Now, speaking of decisions, when are you gonna make your move on Katya---Kitty?"
His eyes widened, then narrowed. "Do you think I have a chance?"
"She likes you. She's one of the girls who fights for the treadmill with the good view of your weight bench in gym."
To her surprise, instead of preening, Piotr glowered. "Eye candy. She thinks I'm a dumb jock."
"Dumb! Peter, she does not!" Rogue stared at him in dismay.
He shrugged. "When I first came here, I did not speak English so fluently. And sometimes when she makes jokes from old television shows and movies, or her books, it seems like we still don't speak the same language."
"Hey, Kitty oughtta be more embarrassed about being a big ol' geek than you should when she has to explain some Star Wars or Trek thing."
He smiled a little, but gestured helplessly with his large hands. "And the computer. I keep messing things up and she has to fix it for me."
"So Kitty's a computer genius. She can't draw stick figures. We all have talents. You aren't dumb, Peter. Big dumb jock is a stereotype, but Kitty doesn't think you're one of 'em."
"Really. We talk about boys and all. You should ask her if she wants to go to the bookstore, and get a coffee or something."
He looked hopeful. "Perhaps I will."